There are many points to make on each, so we will go position by position as always on The Glance.
After another slow start, this one lasting more than a quarter, the SU offense got in gear midway through the second frame and never really looked back. Still, there were plenty of mistakes that need correcting and small opportunities that were not taken advantage of.
Ryan Nassib was the main culprit in the slow start, as he continued to look inaccurate and somewhat uncomfortable in the pocket just as he did against Louisville a week earlier. Also similar to that game, he didn't have a lot of time to go through his progression. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett made the right adjustment though, getting Nassib on the move via play-action and designed roll-outs. It worked, as he caught fire before halftime on an impressive pair of drives – one resulting in a touchdown. After the break, ‘Cuse continued to attack the middle of the field, and Nassib was on the money more times than not. Even on the final offensive play of the game with a chance to tie, he made the correct read and was on time with the throw before the ball was knocked down.
The running backs did what they could on Saturday, but the effort was once again shut down as a result of playing against a solid defensive line. Antwon Bailey could never get going, as he was hit at or near the line of scrimmage nearly every time he touched the ball. The positive that came out of the running game is the pecking order. Jerome Smith is not the change of pace to Bailey, but he is certainly looked to as the short-yardage back. Smith did a nice job converting when he got a chance. Adonis Ameen-Moore was seldom used once again, and it seemed like he was in there just to get an occasional touch – nothing more. As blockers, the unit was solid. Bailey picked up the blitz that keyed the first touchdown the Orange put on the board. Adam Harris again paved the way well on the ground, especially on two of the end-arounds to Dorian Graham.
On the outside, Graham was again solid. As he has been over the last month-and-a-half, the speedster made plays as a runner and pass-catcher. The rushing score he notched was the third different type of TD he has to his name in 2011 adding to his receptions and the kick return he took back against West Virginia. If Graham was good, Alec Lemon was great. He ran great routes all afternoon ad took advantage of the middle of UConn's defense. After he hauled in the passes, he was able to run hard and break tackles in impressive fashion. The only thing he did a poor job of was critical, however. On Nassib's fourth-quarter interception - which led to the Huskies' game-winning drive – Lemon did not come back to the ball while the defender undercut him for the pick. After the game, Lemon admitted that he made the mistake. Upon checking the tape, Van Chew had a better game than I originally considered. He adjusted to the ball well, shook off an injury, and made a good non-block on Graham's TD run considering it would have been a flag that resulted in a 15-yard penalty. Jarrod West made an early play, but he suffered an even bigger drop to not only stall a drive in the second quarter – but halt all the SU momentum in the process.
Tight end David Stevens, like West, made a solid play but suffered an untimely drop as well. To his credit, he sprung Graham on a reverse that resulted in a first down. Nick Provo was much better as a pass-catcher, racking up all of his receptions in the second half. He was on the same page as Nassib on hot-routes, as he often is. However, Provo gave up some negative plays as a blocker – as most of the offensive line did.
The quarterback performed better than people think, the running backs did what they could and the receivers were better than they have been of late. So why did the Orange have some lulls and missed opportunities? Look no further than the offensive line. Macky MacPherson had another tough day at the office against a good interior line, which again resulted in immediate pressure on Nassib. The rest of the line had its moments, but there were too many free rushers to give them much credit. Michael Hay left Bailey to decide between two defenders at one point, as did Zach Chibane. Justin Pugh, considered the team's best protector, had a slow start but improved as the game progressed. Andrew Tiller was good in the running game, and helped to double-team Kendall Reyes and company on multiple occasions.
The Orange defense kept the team in the game in the first half when the offense could not move the ball. They forced turnovers and didn't allow points even when UConn got close in the opening two frames.
The defensive line had a solid day's work on Saturday – against the pass. John McEntee is not the greatest of passers, and SU didn't let him become one. The constant pressure made him buckle at the sight of Chandler Jones and company. Jones, seeming healthier by the week, had another top-notch effort. His stats are great (sack, two forced fumbles) but he was good against the run outside of one play in which he lost contain. I have been critical of Jones' run defense, but he played better in the loss. He was constantly in the backfield – making a great club move to string out a run on one occasion. Against the pass, he is one of the best rushers in the Big East and he was on full display Saturday. Even outside of the numbers, he was impactful by hitting the quarterback on what resulted in an interception down the field. Outside of Jones, there weren't any standout performances. However, Cory Boatman had the best game he has all season despite committing a bonehead offsides penalty early in the game. Torrey Ball had a great effort on one turnover when he took two Huskies out of the play so Boatman could recover a fumble. Mikhail Marinovich, Eric Crume, Deon Goggins and Brandon Sharpe were non-factors.
The group that had the most up-and-down day was the linebacking corps. The entire group had a headache of a time against the read-option. Marquis Spruill was the best of the bunch with great reactions and timely blitzes, but he also guessed wrong on an attack and missed a tackle on Scott McCummings on the game-tying touchdown. Dyshawn Davis had a pair of big hits in the backfield on sild reads and discipline to stay home on a reverse attempt, but he also missed a tackle on a touchdown run from McCummings. Davis also led with the wrong shoulder while taking on a block and even struggled to get off of blocks while engaged. Dan Vaughan nearly made the play of the game when he strip-sacked McCummings in the fourth quarter, but UConn recovered. He also made a big play as a blitzer against the run, but missed a critical tackle in the hole on Lyle McCombs – who made plenty of SU defenders miss on the way to a career-high in yardage. Siriki Diabate didn't get much playing time against such a run-heavy team, but he was late on a zone drop against the pass that led to a big conversion on the day.
At the back-end, one player played better than the rest. Phillip Thomas. He read and reacted well all day, filled the holes as usual and came down with a pair of interceptions. He did miss a tackle on the late touchdown, but made an impact on most of the running plays that were thwarted early. Thomas also fought through an injury to stay in the game. Shamarko Thomas – like the linebackers – had a tough day tackling. He missed on McCummings on a score and was blocked out of the picture on another Connecticut touchdown. He did fill against the run well and saved a big play from happening on a gaping hole for McCombs. The cornerbacks were pretty good, though not much was asked of them. SU stayed in the cover-two look for most of the game, so the CBs were in there to read against the run and get hands on receivers. Keon Lyn was a good tackler and saved a score, Kevyn Scott continued to play the right assignments when given a shot and Rishard Anderson did not make a costly mistake although he continues to struggle when it comes to getting off of blocks.
The phase of the game with the most issue on Saturday, by far, was the special teams. Kicker Ross Krautman, who entered the game with a groin issue, was not able to kick deep on kickoffs and rolled one out of bounds. He also missed a field goal attempt that he hooked left as he was spotted doing in pregame warmups. Krautman may have injured himself further when the opening kick was nearly returned for a touchdown and he was forced into action as a defender. The coverage units weren't just bad on the opening kick, as UConn returner Nick Williams had a field day by breaking tackles on nifty moves every time he touched the rock. As if the kicker and cover-units weren't enough of a problem, Jonathan Fisher could not get going either. The punter had three kicks go less than 30 yards down the field, and coach Doug Marrone has since opened up the competition at the position as a result.
There is much work to do on a short week with a dangerous South Florida team coming to the Carrier Dome on Friday night. Another mobile quarterback presents problems and the read-option will be featured once again. For the offense, ‘Cuse will need to figure out a way to start early, ala the West Virginia game. The momentum and mentality of the team is completely different when Nassib and Bailey start fast – almost to the point where it doesn't matter how the defense does initially (almost).